Apollos Goes from Ephesus to Corinth Part 2 of 3

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

25 This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.

“This man was instructed in the way of the Lord,” which, in his case, probably indicates that he was already a Christian when he arrived at Ephesus. This implies that there was some kind of gospel preaching in Egypt by about a.d. 50. Apollos was well informed about the story of Jesus2, and he yearned to make Him known to his fellow Jews.

There was one flaw in the teaching of this godly Jewish believer: he knew only the baptism of John. It has been concluded from this that his brand of Christianity could not have originated in Jerusalem, where the baptism of Jesus was certainly known. More likely it came to him via Galilee, where the baptism of John was well-known but where the baptism of Jesus, proclaimed by Peter on the day of Pentecost, was not so well known.

“This man”Apollos “was instructed in the way of the Lord,” This did not include the Christian faith (v. 26). The Old Testament uses the phrase to describe the spiritual and moral standards God required His people to observe (Genesis 18:19; Judges 2:22; 1 Samuel 12:23; 2 Samuel 22:223; 2 Kings 21:22; etc.). His instruction came by word of mouth, not by revelation.

The author of Acts seems to imply that Apollos already possessed the Holy Spirit apart from Christian baptism for Dr. Luke says of him “And being fervent in the spirit,” which is an expression that means literally “to boil in the spirit,” that is, his own human “spirit,” and so perhaps “to bubble over with enthusiasm”—The NIV puts it this way: “He spoke with great fervor.” But, perhaps the best meaning to apply to this phrase is not that Apollos own “spirit” was “fervent,” but that he was literally “boiling” with the energy of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:11, “aglow with the Spirit”)—he had a passion for the things of God. It is not clear from Luke’s description whether he means his spirit or the Holy Spirit. In any case, Apollos arrived in Ephesus full of zeal to fan the flames of revival already smoldering in the city as a result of Paul’s visit.

“He spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord,” indicates that he was an enthusiastic witness for the Lord, and this led him to speak and to teach all that he knew about Jesus, though what he knew turned out to be insufficient. He was a disciple of John, and in obedience to John had been baptized unto repentance, and to expectation of the coming of Messiah; but he did NOT know the meaning of the Cross.

Though Johns’ purpose was to announce to the Jews the coming of their long-anticipated Messiah, John did teach some things that were new to most Jewish ears. For example, John announced a future baptism of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11, NIV—“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Also, see Mark 1:8) which took place on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:5). Apollos knew about the promises, but he did not know about their fulfillment. He was a redeemed Old Testament believer (v. 24).

Where did Apollos get his message to begin with? Since Alexandria was a famous center for learning, it is possible that some of John the Baptist’s disciples (Matthew 14:12; Luke 11:1) had gone there while Christ still ministered on earth, and shared with the Jews as much as they knew. The expression “taught diligently” means “catechized” and suggests that Apollos had personal formal training in the Scriptures. However, that training was limited to the facts about the ministry of John the Baptist. Apollos’s message was not inaccurate or insincere it was just incomplete.

“Knowing only the baptism of John”; his knowledge of Christ’s teaching and life was incomplete, and therefore, he would NOT have been able to preach all the gospel. And, since John’s baptism was for the remission of sins and not salvation, he had NOT received Christian baptism. It would be up to Priscilla and Aquila to explain “unto him the way of God more perfectly” (v. 26). If the disciples (see 19:1-7) are any indication, then we must suppose that he did not yet know of the Pentecost event—the gift of the Spirit as a sign that the age of salvation had come (2:174)—and the significance that it gave to baptism. For unlike Johns’ which merely anticipated the age of salvation, Christian baptism belonged to the new age, marking (among other things) the believer’s entry into the gift of the Spirit (2:25, 2:38, 19:4). Apollos may have accepted that Jesus was the Messiah without knowing the full extent of His messianic achievement. One wonders whether he even knew of the resurrection of Jesus.

You may wonder how one could have known only the “baptism of John” and yet have received the Holy Spirit; it’s hard to understand. Equally confusing is the reference to Apollos’s teaching about Jesus accurately. Obviously, the teaching was not complete, or he would have known about Christian baptism as well. Still, Luke depicted Apollos as a Christian. Apollos knew the way of the Lord, taught accurately about Jesus, and may have experienced the Spirit.

What exactly was the deficiency? Scholars have had a field day trying to define it more precisely. Apollos has been depicted as a disciple of John the Baptist, a heretical Alexandrian Christian, a Charismatic Christian, even a Jewish missionary and not a Christian at all. The trouble with all such views is that they concentrate on only one part of Luke’s description and do not sufficiently account for his total picture. Perhaps it is best to leave the matter with Luke’s description and not try to go beyond it. Evidently, it was not unsatisfactory so that he needed further baptism. Luke did not relate his being rebaptized as were the disciples of John (19:56), only of his being further instructed by Priscilla and Aquila.

26 And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.

Whatever his deficiencies, the indication we get from the statement, “And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue,” is that he had the courage of his convictions.

Priscilla and Aquila had remained in Ephesus to carry on the work there until Paul’s return (18:18), and it appears that they still attended services at the synagogue. Evidently, the ministry in Ephesus had not yet extended beyond the synagogue. They had been there about a year “When Aquila and Priscilla had heard” Apollo speak in the synagogue for the first time. They were impressed by his preaching and ability to capture and hold the attention of his listeners, but they detected at once the flaw in his preaching. With rare tact, however, they made no attempt to correct him in front of anyone. They did not buttonhole him after the service and argue with him. They had a better way.

After they heard him speak, “they took him unto them,” that is, Aquila and Priscilla took him home with them, and made him feel welcome in their home and provided him with a Sabbath meal.

After the three had eaten and talked about their work, Aquila and Priscilla gently and lovingly filled in the gaps in his knowledge of the truth; particularly as it pertains to Christian baptism; or as Luke puts it, “expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.”. And no doubt in the process they told him something about themselves and the great apostle Paul, and of the tremendous work that had been done in Corinth. “The way of God” that they explained to him is an accurate summary of the theme that runs through all the early speeches of Acts, namely that God “had foretold through all the prophets” the things concerning the Messiah (3:18, 217; etc.) and that those things have now been fulfilled in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus and in the gift of the Spirit. Luke does not say whether Apollos receive Christian baptism, but if he did it was probably at the hands of his instructors.

Very little is recorded concerning his ministry in Ephesus and Corinth. He was commended by Christians in Ephesus for his natural ability, for his zeal, and for that simplicity of character which had been revealed in his willingness to learn from a tentmaker and his wife.

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